#REVIEW: “ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
I have been a fan of Quentin Tarantino for as long as I can remember. To say Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood was one of my most anticipated films of the year is an understatement. I have been shaking with excitement for months and the Trailers for the sprawling tale of washed-up TV Actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his Stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and all the people their lives intersect with in Hollywood circa 1969 – including Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) – had only fueled my enthusiasm.
What really stands out about Hollywood is how different it feels from other Tarantino films. Yes, it has all the hallmarks of snappy dialogue, dark humour, crowd-pleasing lunacy, incredible song choices, lush Cinematography, obsessive shots of feet and comically-obscene violence that he is known for. It even features a few scenes of slow-build, breathless suspense that had my anxiety racing. But DiCaprio and Pitt are not playing gangsters or low-lifes like the characters in other Tarantino films. Here they are just two dudes struggling to make a living. And while Tarantino has a blast showing how they live their lives over the course of three very specific days, he also uses them as a springboard for showing what an extraordinary time they were living in. And instead of just talking about some of the absurd things that have happened to them (as other Tarantino characters would), the Film actually jumps right in and shows them to you in hilarious snippets. And in doing so, allows Tarantino’s much larger Cast to get in on the fun.
This is also where my issue with Hollywood lies. Watching the activities, situations and shenanigans in which Rick and Cliff find themselves can be wildly-enjoyable (a scene where Cliff fights Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) is a total riot), but in the end, I am not sure what greater purpose it all serves. On one hand, it is Tarantino flexing at the height of his powers and being more self-indulgent than ever before. On the other, it is Tarantino making a very personal film about an era he lived through yet never truly got to experience. His films are inherently nostalgic and exist in his own imagined reality, but there is a deep sadness and bittersweet current that cuts through this one and hangs over it precariously, its weight threatening to suffocate it more than the controversial decision to add Sharon Tate, Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and the rest of his followers into the mix. It makes for a genuinely-conflicting experience either way you look at it, because Tarantino is clearly trying to do and say something very important. In jumping around so much and so often though, he never really gets the chance to show what it is.
While there are a plethora of actors here who have memorable lines and moments, the Film belongs to DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie. DiCaprio brings a vulnerable, comical edge to Rick that he has never really played into before. He is still just as precise and calculating as always, but there is something truly delightful in watching him dig deep to play such an imperfect loser. Pitt is just as great, playing into the archetypes he is known for and then twisting them into something else entirely. Much like the Film, there is a sadness lingering just under the surface that we never see him indulge in that helps guide his fabulous performance. Robbie does not get to say or do much, but her actions and emotions say plenty. She plays Sharon Tate as a mythical figure, showing up every so often to dance, smile and be genuinely-carefree. She is a representation for the era more than anything else, and her aura is a beautiful contrast to all the other sinister and preposterous nonsense going on around her.
Credit also must be given to Editor Fred Raskin, who finally hits his stride here after stumbling with Django Unchained and especially The Hateful Eight. The pacing and editing are spectacular, and Hollywood’s running time practically flies by with no problem at all.
Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is a wildly-enjoyable time at the Movies, and Tarantino’s most personal film to date. The Trio of main performers are terrific and it is a lot of fun to see Tarantino recreate Hollywood memories of yore. Over a day later, I am still undecided if it comes together as magnificently as it could have. It is a very good film no doubt, but I wish it was a truly great one instead.
Sony Pictures Canada release ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD on Friday, July 26, 2019.